Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jesus Said: I Am the Way – John 14:1-7 and 8-14

Today we are going to continue our preaching series focusing on three pivotal sayings of Jesus Christ that are sources of great instruction, incredible wisdom, and lasting hope. These sayings can be for us a way to draw closer to our Savior, while at the same time allow us to come to a deeper and more connected understanding of the nature of Jesus. Last week we began with the saying, “I Am the vine and you are the branches” as we sought to better understand the importance of having Christ in our lives, of the fruitfulness that results from that, and the role our actions play in those endeavors. Today we are going to spend our time on the words, “I am the way and the truth and the life”, as we unpack these words to see some of the lessons Christ is trying to convey to us.

This passage always invokes emotion in the reader. For me it has always been comfort and hope. But for others, especially those outside the church, it can be seen as narrow minded and demanding. Today I want us to take a slightly different approach to this passage, a break from the traditional exegesis, as we explore what Christ might be alluding too as He affirms Himself as the way, the truth, and the life. What is Christ the way towards, what truth is He claiming to be, and what life is He calling us towards.

A New Understanding of Heaven
As our lesson opens this morning we find Jesus giving an answer to a question posed to Him by Peter. Christ is spending some of his last moments on Earth doing something that He loved to do, teach. As we read through Scripture we see countless opportunities Christ seized to bring someone closer to His Father. In this passage, He is teaching the disciples, trying to bring them closer to His Father.

Christ is telling of His departure from Earth and how He is going to go to a place where His disciples cannot follow immediately. Peter is somewhat unnerved. He tells Christ that he will go anywhere with Him. In fact, he would even lay down his life for Jesus! Jesus looks directly at Peter and delivers a response that shakes Peter to his very core. “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” Can you imagine Peter's state of mind after that? However, Christ being the complete embodiment of love, quickly brings about hope. Listen to what He says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Christ tells them that no matter what happens, as bleak as it may seem, from now on they will never be alone.

As we look to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, it is here Christ reveals one aspect of how He embodies the “way” that we read about. In Scripture, Christ has often been called the Way and His disciples were referred to as followers of “the Way”. But the way to what? Theologically we typically use this verse to speak about how Christ is the way to salvation. That is proper and that is absolutely true. But for our purposes this morning, I want to talk specifically about how Christ is the way to Heaven through our salvation. Most of us learn early on in our Christian walk, that the way to Heaven, to eternity, is through profession in Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior. When you believe, with all that you are, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God; that He was born of a virgin; that He dwelled on Earth as fully human and fully divine; that He died by crucifixion; and that three days later He rose from the grave; then salvation is yours and as a result so is an eternity in Heaven. But what is this Heaven that we spend our lives pursuing?

Growing up I loved watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. And invariably a character would make a bad decision and we would see what Mel Blanc and Warner Brothers thought Heaven to be. You remember, up in the clouds, angles wearing halos on their heads and wings on their backs, playing a harp, looking peaceful and content. An idyllic place, complete in splendor, just waiting for us to get there. But is that correct?

In Christ's response to Peter's dedication, an understanding of Heaven is revealed to us. An understanding that Heaven is a place that is not completed, a place that Christ needed to go into, ahead of us, in order to prepare a place for us. We are told nothing of pearly gates, streets of gold, or harps. But we are told of a place where Jesus is, a place where Jesus is Lord and ruler. A place where the sense of community is overwhelming. A place where our connection not only to each other, but to God, is almost indescribable. A place that is not made by human hands, but by eternal ones. A place where The Way is the foundation, a foundation built on love.

Our Hope
And that love is the basis for the next phrase I want to discuss this morning; Jesus as the truth. Specifically the truth of hope. In verse six we come to the climax of this passage, the root that holds this all together. After Jesus speaks to them about preparing a place for them, Thomas airs his confusion. He asks if they do not know where Christ is going, how can they possibly know the way. Jesus responds, in verse six with the words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The Jewish people up to this point had a very difficult way to eternity with God. You earned it. You focus on the hundreds of laws you had to remember, on how to make temporary sacrifices so that your soul might be saved, and it almost seems pray that God honors your heart and not your actions. The Jewish people had the Hebrew Bible to refer to, the Old Testament, but even then, interpretation was still a major factor in how you lived it out. But now comes Christ a new truth for all people.

When I have to enter into something new, my preference is to have someone with me that has either been where I am going, or is an expert on the things I might encounter. Enter Christ. God Incarnate. The one person that can say, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11 NIV). Christ is the one that can be trusted above all others. Christ is the one truth that cannot be wrong. Christ is one that came to us, where we were, where we are, and continues to speak and work within us. Christ is the one that still sits at the Father's right hand as our advocate.

Christ made many declarations in His ministry on Earth. Declarations that at that time, in that culture, where hard to understand, and sometimes even harder to believe. However, everyone of them came true, everyone of them came to fruition. So when Christ says I am the way, that I am going to prepare a place for you, that I will return for you, that I am the truth, and through Me you will have life, even though that can seem a bit ambiguous, these words are true and can be trusted.

A New Life
This brings us to the final phrase, I am the life. To what life is Christ referring to? I believe Christ is referring to the aspect that He is the way to life eternal. That the life Christ is and offers is the path to an eternity involving a close personal relationship to the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So what does that mean for us? I believe that it means we have a great opportunity for the Kingdom of God. How many of you have ever heard the term, senioritis? It basically means that as you end your time in school, as a senior, you begin to slack off or coast a bit. The underlying belief is that the 95% of the work you have done is enough to achieve your goal and nothing you do in that last little bit will truly matter. You basically are content to let your foot off the gas and ease across the finish line. If you any of you have ever watched the Daytona 500, what would happen if a driver had led 499 miles of that race, figured that was good enough and just coasted in that last mile? He would probably finish dead last.

The same applies to our Christian walk. Christ does not call us to simply do all we can for the majority of our lives. We are called to do all we call for all of our lives. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He does not say I did it really well for a while, and now at the end I will ease up a bit. No! He tells us to give it our all till we are here no more.

The Kingdom of God is a present reality and a future hope. It is present in the heart and mind of all believers. It is what we all agreed to support when we became Christians and took our membership vows, “According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ's holy church and serve as Christ's representatives in the world?” It is the foundational goal of all the ministries we participate and fund. It is what we pray for each and every Sunday, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

It is also a future hope. I believe that the kingdom of God will be realized in its fullness when “the reign of God’s peace, justice, and well-being” rules the world completely. Paul speaks of such a day in writing to the church at Philippi: when “at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11 NIV). As believers, as the body of Christ in the world, we are called to participate in the kingdom of God and to help usher the Kingdom into its coming fullness.

That tells me that what we do now matters later. What we do now is important. What we do now helps to shape the coming Kingdom of God. Therefore, what we do in this life helps to build the reality of the next. Prominent biblical scholar N.T. Wright suggests, “...only when we grasp and celebrate the fact that Jesus has gone on ahead of us into God's space, God's new world, and is both already ruling the rebellious present world as its rightful Lord and also interceding for us at the Father's right hand–when we grasp and celebrate, in other words, what the ascension tells us about Jesus's continuing human work in the present–are we rescued from a wrong view of world history and equipped for the task of justice in the present.”1

Jesus lived a hard life. But is was not a lonely life. He was in Father and the Father was in Him. The same holds true for us. We are asked to do many things for the Kingdom of God. But we are never asked to do them alone. We are never asked to do things that God through the Holy Spirit cannot do through us. We are simply asked to be willing to show up and pay attention. Just as Jesus told His disciples then, he is telling us now, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me...Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:1, 12-14) NIV).

Jesus Is the Only Choice
Jesus is God Incarnate. The Word made flesh. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Commentator Merrill C. Tenny writes, “[Jesus] is the way to the Father because only he has an intimate knowledge of God unmarred by sin. He is the truth because he has the perfect power of making life one coherent experience irrespective of its ups and downs. He is the life because he was not subject to death but made it subject to him. He did not live with death as the ultimate end of his life; he died to demonstrate the power and continuity of his life. Because he is the way, the truth, and the life, his is the only means of reaching the Father.

If you want to know the way to eternity, follow the only One that truly knows the way. Listen to His instructions, abide in His ways, remain in His love. Jesus will not lead you astray. Jesus will lead you to a life like you cannot imagine. A life that while it has its challenges, is a life connected, a life transformed, a life of love. Trust Him. He is the only genuine way, the only infallible truth, and the only eternal life. In a world of many choices, make Him the one you choose.

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