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May 18, 2014 - John 14.1-14

“Do We Know the Way or Not?”

John 14.1-14

May 18, 2014

 

14 “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.”

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

 

There has been a lot of love for the new Pope, Francis I, and deservedly so.  He really looks a lot like Jesus.  So much so that people have completely forgotten about the old Pope – you know - the one who retired.  He never got any love from the media, and perhaps deservedly so.  Pope Benedict XVI was once the focus of the news six years ago when he visited the U.S.  He finally responded to the clergy abuse scandal; but he has also caught a lot of grief for his stance on the primacy of the Christian faith.  Once again he restated his assertion that Christianity is the surest way to God.  His assessment of other religions as “gravely deficient” was seen as narrow minded and exclusionist.  He was basically affirming the truth of this text – that Jesus is the only way to know the Father.

Now the retired pontiff and I really do have a lot of differences between us, but I have to back him up.  Except for his assertion that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true way to reach Christ, he was correct in his other assertions.

Theologically, this text is the heart and soul of John’s gospel.  It is the inescapable truth of the gospel as a whole.

Jesus is the only tangible presence of God in the world.  God can only be truly known through the intangible presence of the incarnation.  That is the truth of who Jesus is. He is God’s attempt to establish that meaningful relationship with us.

I have mentioned before that every religion of the world is a human attempt to reach God.  But Christianity is God’s attempt to reach humanity.  That makes all the difference, folks.  It is by the Name of Jesus Christ that every person may be saved, and by none other.  Other religions will help you be a better person, they will help you find balance, they will help you get a messy life back in order, but no religion will save you except for a relationship with Jesus Christ.  It makes all the difference.

Some people, and even, some Christians, are embarrassed by the exclusionary tone of this passage.  Now no one likes to be called narrow minded and exclusionist.  But affirming the truth of this scripture is not the same as being narrow minded and exclusionist.  Jesus is the only way, even if it is politically incorrect. 

However, it can also be attributed to some spiritually immature Christians that have taken this text out of its context, stripped it of its caring, evangelistic heart, and have used it as a theological taunt.  This is another example of the infamous “nanny-nanny-boo-boo” tactic so often employed by those with little worth hearing.  (sing song) “My God can beat up your God…you’re going to hell and I’m not.”  Folks, this is how people hear us when we get all superior on them.  Jesus is the only way, but that does not give us permission to taunt those who do not know Jesus.  In fact, taunting them might be ample evidence that perhaps we don’t know Jesus, either.  We need to remember that Jesus and God are both much bigger than the Bible and even our idea of them.  God is not a commodity that we have to dole out to the world.  We do not own God, nor can we contain God within our religion!  Sometimes we Christians can be so arrogant that we stand in need of repentance for not understanding our own faith.

The fact that Jesus is the only way ought to create within us great wells of compassion for those who do not know him, not puddles of contempt.  We ought to make it our deepest desire to make a connection with the secular minded who have trouble understanding this whole Jesus event.  Think about it.  We are privileged to know the Creator of all things.  Jesus, God’s only true Son, interceded on our behalf and now we are considered God’s children, too.  Wow.  What a privilege.  What an honor. Our greatest obligation is to share that love with others.  It was the last thing Jesus told us to do before he left.

It seems to me – and I could be wrong, but I am probably not – that American Evangelical Christianity has traded what was once the great defining characteristic of evangelicals – which is missions – and replaced it with the zeal to fight a culture war.  Even our seminaries are now preparing ministers to wage a culture war rather than to share the love of Christ with a lost world.  We would rather be RIGHT, and get our way with politics and culture, than win the lost to Jesus by loving them.  Lottie Moon would weep.  The sobering fact is that we cannot wage a culture war and at the same time claim to be spreading God’s Good News.  Jesus is the only way to God the Father.  Jesus is the door.  But it seems to me that we are trying to be the bouncers.  We don’t get to be the bouncers.  That is just wrong.   

Do you remember when you were in school, and the teacher would explain something in great detail, and then one kid would ask a question – the very question the teacher just got through explaining?  How stupid did that kid look?  It was really embarrassing - especially when the kid was me.  Did you see that happen in this text?  Philip did just that.  Jesus says “If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.” So Philip says, “Show us the Father.”  Hello.  Were you listening?  I just said you have seen him.

There is a difference between knowing about a God and knowing the Heavenly Father. Jesus does not say “no one comes to God except through me.”  No.  What Jesus says is “No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is a big difference.  Anyone with an opinion can tell you something about God.  Anyone that tries to be open-minded about spiritual things can probably tell you something about God.  Any person from any of the major world religions can probably tell you something about God.  Heck, any person that can appreciate a flower or a pretty day or a child’s laugh can probably tell you something about God.  But only someone who has met Jesus can tell you about the Father

Once, when I was a student at Furman University, I met a girl at a mixer named Mary Ann Honeycutt.  I knew this was her name because we were all wearing name tags.  Her name tag also said that she was from Louisville, Kentucky.  Now, she had the prettiest blue eyes I had ever seen up to that point in my life, so I just had to try to impress her.  So, I began by telling her that I planned to attend graduate school in Louisville at Southern Seminary.  I told her of the school’s reputation.  She indicated to me with a grin that she had heard of the school.  I took this as confirmation that my plan to impress her was working, so I continued. 

I mentioned that the school might be headed for some turmoil in the future, because of the controversy in the SBC.  She nodded and played with her glass of punch.  I mentioned what had happened at Southeastern Seminary and the disrespectful treatment of that school’s president, Randall Lolley, and I said that I seriously hoped that such a thing would not happen to the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Ron Honeycutt.  She grinned again and said, “Me too.” (Hey! More confirmation.)

So, as clueless as I could be, I kept on thinking that I was impressing this girl because she did seem interested.  I blabbered about the great faculty, and how I thought they were the best faculty of any of the six SBC seminaries.  “I’d like to think so, yes, I would agree with that statement,” she said. Finally, I think she had seen enough of me embarrassing myself.  “You know, my father works there.”

“Really? Who is your Dad?”  I asked.

“Roy Honeycutt.”  She pointed at her name tag.  “He’s the President.”

“Oh.”  I said, now doing my best impression of a mouth breathing moron.  “Well that figures.  Same last name and all.”

“Yep,” She said as she went to get more punch.

Here I was, acting as if I knew everything, when it turned out that she knew far more than I would ever know, because her father was the president.  I knew who the President of the Seminary was, but she knew him as her father.  The two “knowledges” don’t compare.

This knowledge that we have of God as Father; this relationship that we have makes all the difference.  And it’s a big difference.  That is why, in Pope Benedict XVI’s words, all other religions are “gravely deficient.”  It is not superiority, it is truth.  It is not exclusivist, it is particularistic.  It is not about winning a competition; it is about winning the world to the truth.  Shame on us if we can’t handle the truth.  Shame on us if we can’t appreciate the gift we have been given enough to make it our highest priority that others get it too.

If we have this ultimate knowledge, which we do, of which access to is so limited to humans, and if we know the awesome privilege, honor and gift it is to have this ultimate knowledge, then why doesn’t our behavior show it?

Jesus speaks here of us doing things in his name greater than the things he did.  He says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.”  We have a family name, folks.  We have the name given to us by our Father and it’s a good name.  We must be careful not to sully that name with callous comments or a blatant lack of compassion.  We need to remember that praying in Jesus’ name is not just some formula, or just a snappy way to close a prayer.  To use Jesus’ name as authorization for one’s petitions to God implies that those who do so know Christ, abide in Christ, and make their requests from that relationship rather than making selfish requests imported from another value system.  To pray in Christ’s name means, among other things, to be thoughtful about one’s prayers, and to pray about what to pray. 

The very purpose of this text, these things that Jesus says, is meant to give great and profound comfort to us, even to create joy.  When we use this text to exclude people from the gospel, we have got the cat by the tail…and that’s the wrong end.  We have to remember that the Christians were the ones being excluded, so Jesus was encouraging them.  Reading this text in our context means that this text has a richness and possibility perhaps not evident to the first century church.  For us, we need to read this text and know that Jesus’ words “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” also mean “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Everyone can come to the Father through me.” We have that family name folks.  We know Jesus as our Savior, and God as our Father.

We pray in Jesus’ name.  We know all of God’s names it seems.  We know the Savior, Jesus, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the Father, the Creator, Redeemer, the Word, Light, Bread of Life, the Vine, Judge, King, Lamb, the Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Rock, Living Water, Way, Truth and Life.  We know Him by name and by our relationship with Him.  It is up to us to share his Name with the entire world.