|The Names of Jesus #8
"I Am The Way"
May 10, 1998 / John 14:1-14
What would you do if your best friend were about to move away? You’d want a means of contact. Right? Phone number, e-mail, street address and ZIP Code — you’d want all the information you could get on his or her new place of residence. If that person has really been important to you, you would want to know how to stay in touch until one of you could travel to see the other again. It’s only natural. That’s how close relationships work.
If you have ever gone through that sort of separation from anyone you love, you have some sense of what was going on in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples when he told them the following: "I will be with you only a little longer . . . . Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later" (John 13:33a, 36b). What would you have done if your best friend not only told you he was leaving but that you couldn’t have any details of his new location or follow him there anytime soon?
The disciples were devastated. Jesus sensed, in fact, that they felt like "orphans" at the news that he was going away and leaving them behind (John 15:18). But out of this crisis of alarm and confusion would come another name for Jesus that reveals still more of his role in the lives of those who put their trust in him.
Looking for a Way — Just Any Way
Have you ever thought that Shakespeare’s Macbeth was right in concluding that "Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"? There are circumstances so confusing and pains so great that one may cry out his or her own version of that judgment. In such a mood, we cry from the depths for someone to throw light on our path. We plead for someone to lead us out of the fog. We need something or somebody to reassure us that there is a meaning to life.
In the Bible, this is teen-aged Joseph in prison on account of his brothers’ jealousy and his owner’s wife’s lie in a country where he was a foreigner whose God was unknown. It is widowed Ruth trying to survive a famine with her mother-in-law in a patriarchal society. It is Job in such pain from a mysterious disease that he cannot bear even the weight of the lightest clothing on his body — and his friends and wife urging him to commit suicide. It is Peter trying to save his own neck when Jesus is about to die by denying that he knows the carpenter from Nazareth — and hearing a rooster crow in the distance.
In your own life, it may have been the loss of your business, your job, or your parents. It may be the pain that wakes you in the night and causes you to cry for lack of relief. It may be the hopelessness of your marriage. It could be simply your personal sense of worthlessness and shame as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It may be some terrible sin you have committed that stands to land you in jail, take away your good name, or strip you of the promising future you had envisioned.
Sometimes life does not appear to make sense. There seems to be no hope that things will ever be put right again. There seems to be no good reason to believe that a heart of love beats behind the cold indifference of a vast universe that grinds up huge numbers of people. One is tempted to say with cynical Solomon:
And I declared that the dead,
who had already died,
are happier than the living,
who are still alive.
But better than both
is he who has not yet been,
who has not seen the evil
that is done under the sun (Eccl. 4:1-3).
When anyone despairs of life in such bitter terms as these, she or he is looking for a reason to go on. He is trying to keep from going down with the Titanic of his dream that has struck an iceberg and is sinking inexorably into the cold, dark waters of failure. She is trying to find an exit from the mess she has made — a way out, just any way to go on.
But the way out of life’s deep pit of despair is not by grasping just anything that is offered and trying it. The things most commonly offered to people at these melancholy moments typically only make things worse — self-medication, affairs, theft, lies, suicide. The only path that leads from trouble to hope, from despair to triumph is the way of faith — faith in Jesus Christ.
Offering The WAY
Let’s go back to the original dilemma I posed for you. What of the friend who is going away? What of your desire to stay in touch? What of your plan to go to the new place or have the friend return to you? Then you hear: "You cannot come" or "You cannot follow now." You sense that you are being abandoned. Your heart becomes heavy and troubled.
Then you hear these words of reassurance that seem to contradict what you have just been told:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going (John 14:1-4).
Are you confused by all this? So were the disciples! One of them spoke up to admit his confusion: "Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ " (John 14:5). Then comes a response from Jesus that is intended to change everything for Thomas — and for us. We are no longer to think of "a way, just any way" to make sense of life and to deal with our perplexity. We are invited by Jesus to think henceforth of the way — more correctly The WAY, the One and Only WAY — to deal with the issues of meaning, place, and function in the often-confusing, sometimes-fatal environment of life on sin-plagued Planet Earth. "Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ " (John 14:6).
There is no more dramatic or important verse in all of Scripture than this one. It invites every "troubled heart" to find its alternative to despair, shame, and hopelessness in trusting Jesus.
The Meaning of Life
The goal and meaning of human life are not contained in itself. People despair when they fall for the lie that it is. Thus to lose one’s health is to lose everything. To lose one’s good name and reputation is to lose everything. To lose one’s business is to lose everything. To lose one’s house, car, and bank account is to lose everything. To lose one’s life is to lose everything. Balderdash!
If the meaning of life is self-contained, how could Jesus say this: "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life"? (John 12:25). If the view that this life tells the story of human existence is true, why would he say this: "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life"? (Rev. 2:10).
Too many Christians have fallen for the lie that the purpose of life is to get toys, then die. That will never do. It can only lead to frustration and emptiness. From the standpoint of faith, life is more than competition and toys, retirement and death. Its meaning is found beyond itself in God’s presence in heaven.
The Milton Bradley Company sells a terrible board game called The Game of Life.1 Children drive around the board in plastic cars to acquire cash and possessions. The bulk of the game is spent waiting for the next "payday" and moving toward the game’s ultimate destination: retirement. The one who retires with the most possessions accumulated is the winner.
Contrast that with a board game called The New Game of Human Life that was published back in 1790 when George Washington was president. Available now only in historical novelty shops like those found in Colonial Williamsburg, it reflects a very different view of life from the modern game with a similar name. It isn’t about the collection of money and stuff. When players land, for example, on spaces like "The Studious Boy" or "The Benevolent Man," they have the right to advance several spaces. When they land on "The Negligent Boy" or "The Drunkard," they lose a turn or go backward several spaces. And the goal of the game is not retirement but "The Immortal Man" — described in the rules as "a model for the close of life which can end only by eternity."
When did we lose this perspective on the meaning of life? Why did we trade it for so selfish a view as the one in the Milton Bradley game? "[If] this is more than just a material world — if, indeed, there is a transcendent purpose to our lives and a unique destiny we are to fill — then we ought to devote our lives to that calling."2
On that day when Jesus told his disciples he was leaving, Thomas and the others were saddened by the thought that their relationship with him was about to end. Everything was over! Hope was vanishing! But, no, Thomas. No! Jesus was about to return to his home with the Father. And he would open the way for the rest of us to follow him there.
Jesus’ route to his Father’s house would be through death and resurrection (cf. John 12:31-32). As he traveled that way, he would also be securing eternal life for all who trust and follow him. He would go ahead of the rest of us. He will prepare rooms in his Father’s mansion. Then he will return to take us where he is. In the meanwhile, we are to view everything that happens to us in light of these facts. A failed business, the death of someone dearly loved, sickness, death — these are not ultimate tragedies. Only the loss of heaven would be an "ultimate tragedy." And heaven has been secured for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It is noteworthy that Jesus gives no details concerning that future state. It is simply being where he is. That, however, is sufficient: ‘Where Jesus is, ’tis heaven there.’ This great blessing, the assurance of eternal life with Jesus in his heavenly home, is possible only because Jesus goes away from us through his cross, resurrection and ascension. If part of the reason for our ‘troubled hearts’ is this loss of dear ones through death, or our disillusionment with this present world, we are called to renew our trust in him and rediscover his gift of peace, in the confidence that he is coming as he promised and that he has prepared a place for all who love him, in the glory that will surely be.3
When Thomas declared his ignorance of how to follow Jesus to that place (i.e., "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"), the Lord gave this assurance: "I am the way . . ." The way to heaven is not along some path of good works and achievement. The way to heaven is not through education is an esoteric philosophy. The way to heaven is Jesus himself! "Faith in him shatters the barrier of sin and death, and blasts open the road to the eternal life of the kingdom of God. It is ‘the road that leads to life’ (Mt. 7:14)."4
If Thomas had understood what Jesus said in that moment, he would have reversed himself immediately. That is, instead of saying "Jesus, please don’t leave us!" he might have said instead "Then what are you waiting for! Let’s get on with this! I’m sorry you will have to die to make it possible, but please don’t let our puny confusion and protests keep you from opening the door to heaven!"
The hope for immortality seems to be part of our human nature. We know things are incomplete here. We know our tasks will be unfinished when we die. Life is more than Macbeth’s "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" only if it stands over against eternity to give it meaning. In the coming, death, and rising of Jesus, God has spoken on this matter. There is meaning to life. And we can live with purpose and hope in whatever circumstance comes to us here.
Don’t miss the boldness of Jesus’ statement here. He claims not to be a way to heaven but the only way to God. "No one comes to the Father except through me," he declares. That all the religions of the world are simply alternative paths to God is not a statement to be made by an orthodox Christian. Jesus Christ is not a Savior; he is the Savior, and apart from him there is no promise of eternal life to anyone. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
An explorer attempting to travel in and map unfamiliar territory came to a place where he had to cross some very high mountains that were rugged and threatening. Knowing how risky his task would be, he searched for a qualified guide. One man offered his services for a considerable sum of money. "Have you ever traveled through those mountains?" asked the cartographer. "No," the man said, "but I’ve been part of the way and have been told how to proceed from there." The cautious explorer said, "I’m sorry, but I will not risk it."
Another person volunteered, and he too was asked, "Have you ever been over those mountains?" "No, but I’ve been to the top and looked down on the way that leads where you want to go." The explorer considered his offer. Then he said, "No, I’m afraid to trust myself to your leading. I want to travel with someone who has been there already."
Finally a man was brought to his camp who said he knew the way. "Sir," he explained, "the place you are going is my home — and I am returning there in three days. I will lead you through the mountain pass and show you my home." The traveler knew immediately that he had found his guide.
The Lord Jesus Christ not only knows the way to heaven but has provided The Way to it in his own person and work. You have found him and can walk with him in the truth and receive his life. It is his free gift to you.
1 Information on The Game of Life and The New Game of Human Life comes from William R. Mattox Jr., "In game of life, immortality beats material gains," USA Today, 29 April 1998, p. 13A.
3 Bruce Milne, The Message of John (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 210.
4 Ibid., p. 211.
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