Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sermon on John 14:1-12

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The sermon text is the Gospel reading, John 14, especially verses 6-7 and 9b: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

The other day on an interpretive hike at the Wichita Mountains, I had an interesting encounter with a man and his wife who told me they belonged to a Unitarian church. When I asked what they believed there and what they believed regarding Jesus, he basically said that you can believe whatever you want, and there are no creeds. He said you’ll never hear mention of sin, hell, or even heaven there. Although you might hear the pastor say there might be a heaven, and if there is, everybody will be there. Regarding Jesus, he said they don’t believe He was sent from God, but He was basically a good person and a good teacher. They also deny that God is a Trinity. I couldn’t help but be surprised at how almost point by point, everything he said was entirely opposite of what Jesus teaches here in the Gospel reading. It was truly a sad experience, and left me wondering why he could think Jesus was a good teacher, if he disregarded the most important things that Jesus taught about Himself and about salvation. And if he truly believed that there was a God, why is it that this man didn’t seem concerned to know what that God has to say about our relationship with Him, and the truths about the afterlife? He may have found it comforting to think that if there is a heaven, everyone will be there; but is that what God actually says?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks in entirely different terms. He says clearly, without ambiguity, that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him. He speaks in absolute terms about salvation and the afterlife, reaffirming to His disciples that His Father’s house is a real place, and that He is going there. You also can’t miss the fact that Jesus is speaking of the Trinity here, and although the Holy Spirit isn’t mentioned in today’s Gospel selection, you only have to read the rest of John 14 to find Jesus speaking of the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus and the Father will send. But what does it mean that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? What is Jesus teaching us by these words?

Our brother Thomas helps us figure out the first part. Jesus told His disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas interrupts, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This was one of those moments where they knew something, but just didn’t realize it. Thomas had, of course, just heard Jesus say He was going to His Father’s house; but Thomas didn’t think he knew where that was, or what was the way to get there. Then Jesus opened the disciple’s eyes, and they had one of those “AHA!” moments, where the light bulb comes on. The light bulb came on when He said “I AM the Way.” Suddenly Thomas and the rest realized that they did in fact know the Way to get to the Father, because they knew Jesus. Perhaps they were expecting to get a roadmap and directions; instead they were shown the Person of Jesus.

Jesus Himself is the Way, and He Himself leads us on the Way. He is the expert navigator who will safely guide us through the snares of this life, taking us safely home to His Father and our Father. We can trust in Him because He is the Way and He is our guide. And He tells us that He is the only Way to the Father, for no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. What He’s saying is that all other ‘ways’ are closed. There are no back roads or alternate ways to the Father. Jesus’ words stand in stark contrast to the Unitarian belief that all paths lead to the same God. Jesus says He is the only Way. He says this, not because He wants to keep people from getting to the Father, but rather because He wants them to know the right Way to get there. He doesn’t want people taking dead-end roads. But sadly, many have chosen to travel dead-end roads. It is those people especially that need to hear our Christian witness. God indeed wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth, but here He shows that there is only one path, One Way.

And since God wants all men to come to a knowledge of the Truth, Jesus also tells us that He is the Truth. He is the Truth because He came to reveal the Truth concerning the Kingdom of God and the Truth concerning God. Jesus came as God-in-person to reveal the Father’s will, the Father’s image, and the Father’s love. Since no one had ever seen God, Jesus appeared in flesh to show this Truth by His teachings, life, death, and resurrection. He taught that the Father’s will was that “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40). And He showed the Father’s love by His death on the cross for our sin. But how did Christ show the Truth of the Father’s image? Jesus explained this in the rest of today’s Gospel reading.

He tells us this in a series of statements that have a unique progression to them. First Jesus says that to Know Him is to Know His Father; second, that by Knowing Him they have Seen Him; and third, that to See Him is to See His Father. But our brother Philip interrupted Jesus before He could make His third point. Again, like Thomas, he was a little confused. Jesus said “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” Philip was a little unprepared for this jump. He knew Jesus, and Jesus said that meant He also knew the Father. But now He says that also meant that he has seen the Father! Philip’s probably thinking, “Whoa, back up the train a minute. Hold on here. When have I ever seen the Father?” So he tells Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” It’s like he thought that he had missed something, and was asking for a replay. And you can just hear the patience in Jesus’ answer:

“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” It wasn’t the first time that Jesus had said something like this. He had said before “whoever sees me sees Him who sent me” (John 12:45). He had taught the disciples and the other Jews that He and the Father were One (John 10:30). He had said that He did nothing of His own authority, but spoke as His Father taught Him (John 8:28). There were plenty of times when Philip and the disciples had heard Jesus teach this Truth again and again. Yet even after such a long time, they still didn’t understand. (So maybe there’s hope for us too!) So Jesus made it clear in His third point: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Another light bulb moment. All this time they knew and saw Jesus, and didn’t realize that in doing so they were knowing and seeing the Father. In this great mystery of the Trinity, we learn that “the Son is the radiance of the God’s glory and the exact representation His being” (Heb. 1:3). Seeing Christ is seeing the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15).

By looking at Christ, we have a clear picture of the Father’s will, His image, and His love. This is because the Father lives in Him, and because Jesus is in the Father. In Christ all the fullness of the deity dwells bodily (Col. 2:9). And so we see what Jesus meant in His threefold explanation: First, that to Know Him is to Know His Father; second, that by Knowing Him they have Seen Him; and third, that to See Him is to See His Father. This close relationship between knowing Jesus and seeing the Father is crucial for us Christians today. For we have not seen Christ physically, eye to eye, as Philip and the disciples had. So all the more for us it is important that we understand that to know Jesus is to know the Father, and thereby to see the Father. We, of course, know Jesus through the Word that has been proclaimed to us, and by the Holy Spirit granting us faith in that Word. We know Jesus by faith, and thereby know the Father also. And seeing Jesus by faith, as the Scriptures depict Him for us, we also see the Father by faith. So that when we finally arrive in our Father’s mansion in heaven, it won’t be like coming to a stranger’s house. Rather, you might hear us remark, “I feel like I’ve known Him all my life!” For indeed you have. For by knowing Jesus you know the Father. And we will at last be at home, because Jesus is also The Life.

This last and final part of Jesus’ statement points to the eternal promise of our Savior: that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life, and be raised from the dead on the Last Day. Jesus is the Life, because through His death on the cross He defeated death, and by His resurrection He has opened to us the Way to everlasting life. And by faith and rebirth in Baptism He grants us the same resurrection to life. As the hymn writer puts it, “You are the life; the rending tomb proclaims your conqu’ring arm; and those who put their trust in you not death nor hell shall harm.” Christ’s breaking forth from the tomb proclaims that He has conquered death. Since death lies defeated, we who believe in Jesus cannot be harmed by death or hell. We are safely on the Way to Heaven in the One who is the Way and the Life. The grave is not the end for us; by Jesus’ Life we shall also have life in heaven. For He has prepared an eternal home for us to inhabit with God and all believers in Christ. A life in communion with God, clothed in our resurrected bodies. For that Last Day we pray and we wait.

But until that day, we can have a sure hope and confidence, for we do know where Jesus has gone, and we do know the Way. For He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is everything we need for our Journey home, and through Him we have seen the Father. And that is enough for us. Lord, keep us always surefooted on the Way, as you teach us your Truth, and give us your Life. In Jesus name, Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.

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