Powers and Principalities

Series:I am
Duration:37 mins

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

There was once a great cartoon in The New Yorker magazine that depicts a pastor standing at a crossroads where he is clearly struggling with which path to choose. At the intersection is a signpost with two signs. One has an arrow and points to “Heaven.” The second sign points down the other road to “Discussion about Heaven.” So, Heaven or Discussion about Heaven? It is an anguish-filled choice.

After mentioning this cartoon in one of her books, Pastor Lillian Daniel writes:

Sometimes I think we in the church stand at the same crossroads, stuck between “Jesus” and “Discussions about Jesus.” This is particularly true of thoughtful, intelligent people who are not afraid to ask questions about the Bible and the history and culture of Jesus’ day. We are so comfortable that we are better at articulating what we do not believe about Jesus intellectually than saying what we do believe about him personally.

But also stuck are the people who claim to know exactly who Jesus is, and then use that as a test to see if everyone else is saved or unsaved.

It seems to me this is part of the challenge with a text like today’s sixth “I AM” statement of Jesus. “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We are tempted, just like the disciples were, to try to figure out where Jesus is going; how in the world we are not supposed to be troubled at his departure; and even how many rooms are there really in that mansion in the Father’s house.

And all that thinking about someplace else leads us to begin debating who else is going to be there (because we are confident that we will be there, right?). Perhaps you have heard or even participated in these debates before:

This text is exclusive because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There is no other name, no other way, no other truth that leads to the Father. We have this truth and others don’t. It’s like one of the golden tickets in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If you find one you get inside the candy factory. If you don’t you are left outside. So you better get a ticket because while God is for us, God is against you and unless you too accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, become a Christian, and join the church (and even better join our church).

Now that may strike us as 21st century Americans as a bit harsh. After all there are many other religions out there. So, perhaps this text is not exclusive, it is pluralistic because for us Christians, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. After all he was just talking about his disciples here, those who already knew him, not about the whole world. As Christians, we know the saving work of God in Jesus Christ, but others may find the same thing in other religious figures. No need to judge or be intolerant. We are all really just trying to find our way to God through different paths.

Now, that may sound like we have thrown the baby Jesus out with the bathwater in an attempt to not offend anyone. So still others read this text not as exclusive or pluralistic but as inclusive. Yes, Christianity is the true, unique, and definitive religion but God’s grace is also at work outside the Christian circle, often in ways and in people who do not recognize Jesus. One doesn’t really need to know Jesus or call on his name because like a rising tide that lifts all boats, through Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life everyone has been saved – even if they don’t know it yet.

Do you see how these “discussions about Jesus” threaten to pull us in like the sirens beckoning unsuspecting sailors to shipwreck on a rocky coast?

Yes, we are threatened with shipwreck because did you notice that all three of those attempts to understand this text and its relation to non-Christians are not about Jesus at all. All three are about us: what we think, what we fear, or what we hope. Yes, the father we travel down the “discussions about Jesus” road the father we get from the question that has guided this entire series: Who do you say that Jesus is?

I think that should be the guiding interpretative question for this text. Who do you say that Jesus is? In his own words Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Throughout this series we have seen that Jesus is not talking about himself in some future way or some other place. No, Jesus is talking about himself here and now, in the present tense, the Word made flesh and living among us. So here and now who do we say that Jesus is? As he reflected on this text, the late theologian Shirley Guthrie of Columbia Theological Seminary answered the question this way:

Who is the one whom Christians confess to be the way, the truth, and the life? According to the New Testament, he is the expression of God’s love not just for Christian believers but for all humanity, the one in whom God was at work to reconcile the whole world to himself. He came not to give his followers everything they wanted to be happy, successful, and secure now and forever, but to announce and usher in the worldwide reign of God’s justice and compassion for everyone. He was the friend not just of law-abiding, God-fearing insiders, but of sinful, unbelieving, or different-believing outsiders. He believed that caring for suffering and needy human beings was more important that conformity to the moral and theological requirements of religious orthodoxy. He came not to condemn, defeat, and lord it over those who rejected him but to give his life for them, to restore to them their own true humanity and to reconcile them to God and their fellow human beings. And God raised him from the dead and made him to be the crucified and risen Lord over all principalities and authorities everywhere – not just Lord over the church or Lord in the hearts of Christians, but risen Lord who continues his healing, reconciling, liberating, saving work everywhere in the world. Even where he is not yet known, acknowledged and served; even before Christians get there to tell others about him.

My friends, do you begin to see that this text is about the way, the truth, and the life that is not a doctrine or a ticket to heaven but a person? It is not about us. It is about Jesus. Yes, it is about Jesus - a person who meets our deepest hungers, who brings the creative and life transforming power of God into a new creation, who rules this new creation as a shepherd, and who brings the new life of resurrection to us – all of this here and now!

He is the one we seek, he is the mystery of grace, he is the one who died for us, who rose for us, and who will come again for us. The rest is mere speculation. All we can do is point to Jesus. For only in him is there salvation, for us and our neighbors. Do you believe this?

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: