The Way - John 14:1-30
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
There are some choices in life which are very simple to make. Let me give
you a few examples.
o Given the choice between having your mortgage increased and your mortgage paid off, what would you choose?
o Given the choice between a higher salary for the same amount of work or a lower salary, what would you choose?
o Given the choice between giving the government any of your personal details or none of your personal data, what would you choose?
There are some choices which are very simple. They are no brainers in the choice world. They don’t even take a moments contemplation because the answer is so obvious.
Now in John chapters 13-17 Jesus did not give his disciples a choice about whether he should stay with them or whether he should return to his Father in heaven via the cross and resurrection. But if he had the answer should have been obvious. What should have they have chosen if they had been given a couple of options? Suppose these were the options.
Option 1. Choose for Jesus to stick around. Choose for the man who had inspired them on a mission, who had taught them for three years, who had filled their horizons with hopes and dreams and had united them in a loving community. Choose for this one to stay with them and continue what he had started until the movement spread throughout the world.
2. Choose for this dynamic young leader to leave them at this crucial time
and go to his bloody execution on a Roman cross. Choose for the visionary of
their tiny movement to say goodbye and leave them to continue by themselves.
What should they have chosen if they had been the choose? Well, actually it was one of those no brainers. Given the alternative between option 1 and option 2, then option 2 should have been chosen without much contemplation.
From John 13 until the end of the Gospel Jesus is preparing his new community of disciples for his imminent departure. For 12 chapters we have witnessed the impact of the second person of the Trinity in the world he originally created. We have listened to his words, we have been awe struck by his miracles, and we have been stunned by the wickedness of his creatures who again and again refuse to follow him as King.
Major turning point in John’s Gospel in chapter 13.
This is what we read in John 13:1, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave the world and go to the Father.”
Do you see the turning point? For 12 chapters Jesus, who is the eternal Word of God, has been interacting with his creation. He has been revealing his identity to the world through his words and through his miracles. But from chapter 13 onwards the one who came from heaven now begins his journey home. He makes his final preparations for his imminent departure to be with his Father in heaven.
Jesus wanted his mission to continue after he was gone. He left his small group of followers with instructions about how to behave when he was gone.
As you can imagine they were distraught. This was the man who they had built their lives upon, left their families and businesses to follow. We’re told never to keep all your eggs in one basket but for the best reasons in the world this is exactly what they had done. And now he was leaving them.
So the questions began. Will we cope? Will the Receiver need to be called in? Will the enterprise collapse? Can we continue? Should we continue? Will life ever be the same again?
To which Jesus says, “Actually guys, life will be better without me. It is for your good that I am going away.” It may seem ridiculous at first sight but Jesus teaches in John chapter 14 that if those 11 disciples in the Upper Room had been given the choice between Jesus staying or Jesus going, then they should have picked option 2 without any hesitation.
And in John 14 Jesus provides two reasons why.
1. His departure would guarantee a certain future for his disciples in heaven (Vs 1-11).
2. His departure would guarantee a greater future for his disciples on earth (Vs 12-31).
First of all, his departure would guarantee
a certain future for his disciples in heaven.
Look at what Jesus says in verses 1-4. “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.”
At first he gives this general command to trust him. So often the way, our hearts feel like giving up, our emotions are all over the place, so what should we do? We keep on trusting the one who has demonstrated he is trustworthy.
The first thing that Jesus had to tell his original disciples. Trust me guys. I’m in control. Events are not spiralling out of control. I will be taken from you. I will be brought before the Roman authorities. I will be stripped, beaten, tortured and then crucified but all this is part of the plan.
I know you can’t see the reason at the moment for the events which are taking place but what I’m asking you to do is keep on trusting that I won’t let you down and that I know what I’m doing.
Perhaps you are a Christian here tonight who needs to hear the same assurance from Jesus. No idea what you are currently going through at the moment. Jesus says, “Trust me, I am in control of your destiny.”
What I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t simply keep his advice to the abstract and the general. It is true that we are to trust him no matter what but from verse 2 onwards he begins to explain one of the reasons why his imminent departure is such good news for his disciples.
He is returning to his Father’s house to prepare a place for his disciples. Does not mean that Jesus goes home early to make sure the place is tidy for our arrival.
When I was on summer camp in July my home was visited by three special people. My fiancé and my two future in-laws. They completely transformed it. New garden instead of the giant cat litter tray. Vacuum and cleaned. New duvet and sheets. New items that my bachelor pad had never seen – flowers. Great to behold. As I was driving back I was hoping for a bath then the dreaded prospect of bathing in my bachelor bath came into my head. I was so grateful for the tidy up but then began to think of the horrific scene they would have found on their arrival.
Jesus is not doing this. It is not that he goes to the Heavenly Mansions, puts on some old clothes, starts stripping the wall paper and puts a new coat of emulsion on our apartments.
It is not so much his arrival with the Father that is the focus here but much more the journey that he had to take in order to arrive.
What was that journey? In just a few more hours he would appear before Pontius Pilate and be sentenced to death. Not just any old death but crucifixion. Agonising and embarrassing way to leave this earth. It was exactly at this moment, when his arms were out stretched that Jesus made the way to dwell with the Father in the heavenly realms a certain future for all his followers. As he took on himself the punishment of all his disciples, he made their future eternity certain beyond all reasonable doubt.
At this point Jesus assumes that his disciples have grasped a few basic ideas. Like where he is going and how they are to get there in the future.
But listen to what Thomas says in verse 5. “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
To which Jesus replied, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
Unless we rewrite our bibles we cannot get away from these exclusive claims of Jesus. No one will be in the Father’s heavenly mansion unless they are a committed follower of Jesus. Not the sincere Muslim, not the sincere Buddhist, not the sincere Hindu, not the sincere atheist or the sincere agnostic. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ.
Reason? Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life.
Not just a way to known God and get to heaven but the one and only definite and exclusive way to dwell with God forever.
How can he make such claims? Because he says is the truth. From the beginning of the Gospel Jesus has been making outrageous statements about what God wants and what God thinks of his creatures. Big question is always, where does he get his authority from? Jesus responds in terms of his identity. He claims to be the eternal Son of the Father, the one who has been in the Father’s presence forever and so who knows what he is talking about.
If Jesus was simply a human being then his exclusive claims would be most arrogant. However, since he was fully divine then to deny his claims is to call the divine God a liar – and that’s not a good thing to do!
Let me tell a story to explain what I’m talking about.
Suppose there was traveller who stood by a signpost; weary & perplexed. Around him in all directions were innumerable paths heading off in every direction. The mist was thick & the sign itself weather beaten & illegible. The traveller asked himself; which way should I go to get to the CITY OF GOD. There are so many alternatives, which one is right?
As he pondered the situation
3 other travellers came up behind him having travelled by the same road.
"Excuse me" the traveller, said to the 1st "I want to go to the CITY OF GOD do you know the way?"
"Huh" said the fellow traveller "You don't still believe in that rubbish do you? These roads all lead no where. All this talk about there being a CITY OF GOD is all so much mythological claptrap. If you take my advice stay here & set your tent by this sign & make the best of what you've got."
The traveller's face fell but it brightened a little as the 2nd traveller arrived. As he approached the traveller he asked again "Do you know the road to the CITY OF GOD? The 2nd man smiled back benignly "An unnecessary Q my friend all roads lead to CITY OF GOD they only appear to go in different directions. I promise you, back there in the mist they all circle back on themselves & all converge on your desired destination. So follow any as you wish & it will get you there in the end."
The traveller frowned. Was it
really likely that roads which start off in such radically different directions
should end up in same place? Surely it would be possible to go the wrong way,
as well as the right way. But which is the right? He sighed in frustration
Suddenly out of the mist a 3rd man appeared. Unlike the others he did not come up the road the traveller himself had come by. Instead he had come down one of the other paths a steep & little trodden one at that.
"Excuse me" said traveller one more time "Do you
know the way to the CITY OF GOD? One person has told no such place exists and
another assured me that all roads lead there. Can you tell me right way?"
"Indeed I can." Replied the stranger. "I'm afraid the others
you spoke to were only guessing. You see they have never been to the CITY OF
GOD & so can only speculate about the route. I on the other hand, I live
there, the CITY OF GOD is my home. So, come, follow me, I am the way."
Jesus is that 3rd traveller. He is the divine Son who can tell us the truth about reality.
Or as he makes clear in verses 7 to11, he is the one the glorious Father has sent to reveal his character and his directions for humanity.
We cannot afford to make the mistake of so many today. We cannot relegate Jesus to the category of interesting religious teacher or fascinating spiritual mystic, whose ideas about the future are certainly worthy of contemplation but are not the first and the final words we need to hear on the subject of eternity.
Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” I’m on the same divine plane as the Father and I speak as someone who knows what he is talking about. And I say, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Never popular. What I find significant is that straight away the early Christians believed what Jesus said and preached it passionately to other people. How do I know this? They were known as followers of ‘The Way’.
Acts 9:1-2, “Saul went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”
The riot in Ephesus. Acts 19:23, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way.”
Early Christians did not duck the truth, they believed what Jesus said and acted in a different way because it was true.
This is why they were persecuted by the Roman government of their day. Let me quote from a book of church history I read on Monday.
“The question, then, is why Rome decided that the Christians were a threat to the well-being of the empire. And the answer lies in the exclusive truth-claims that Christians made for their faith. The other religions did not make any claim to be the one and only truth. A person could “mix” his religions and follow more than one. Christianity, and of course, Judaism, stood out against this pattern. The Christians and the Jews insisted that they alone had the true faith and the only way to salvation. The Roman world could tolerate such a view from the Jews, because Jews were simply following the traditional religion of their nation and ancestors, and did not go around trying to make anyone else into Jews. The Christians had no such excuses; their religion was new, unheard-of, and burning with a passion to convert all pagans. So the Church’s exclusive, intolerant, missionary attitude to other religions marked Christians out and made them very unpopular. To their pagan neighbours, this evangelistic devotion to Christ as the only Saviour seemed highly arrogant and dangerously anti-social.”
Could this not have been written about our own world? Here in 21st Century Britain, it’s just the same. This exclusive message of Jesus is not popular. But we need to remember three things.
o Jesus said it. He is fully divine. He knows what he is talking about.
o We are in good company. Christians throughout the ages. Who do you want to commend you? The saints of the past or the compromisers of the present?
o This is good news. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus but put more positively there is now a certain future for Jesus’ disciples in heaven because of his unique sacrifice on the cross.
So was it better for Jesus to go? Absolutely! Because now there is a certain future in heaven for all those who choose to follow Jesus as King.
Secondly, there is now a greater future for his disciples here on earth.
What do you make of what Jesus says in verse 12? “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Jesus does have an impressive CV. Some would say that he was a late starter in life but once he got going his list off miracles was very impressive.
Even if we restrict ourselves to John’s Gospel the list is very grand. Water into wine, the complete healing of a sick boy, the feeding of over 5000 people with very little food, the healing of a blind man and the raising of his friend Lazarus from a grave he had occupied for 4 days!
This is an impressive list! Good to say the achievements of Jesus out loud because it will prevent us from making the ridiculous claim that the disciples of Jesus will do greater miracles than the Lord they follow. This cannot be what Jesus means when he promises his disciples will do greater things than he has been doing.
What does he mean? Jesus’ miracles were not the main focus of his mission. They were an aid to understanding his identity but point of his mission was to set up the Kingdom of God. He was the divine King who had come to summon rebellious subjects to a new way of life.
That’s what he did. His work was restricted to a very small geographical area. Inevitably the number of people who could join his movement was severely limited.
Yet the wonderful promise from Jesus is that after he is gone his disciples will continue his work and indeed will be able to accomplish even greater things than their master. Not because we are more powerful than Jesus or more spiritual but simply because there will be more of us around the world.
And so the number of people who will hear the gospel proclaimed will be larger and hence the number of followers will inevitably be greater.
All this because Jesus was returning to his Father. This would mark a new stage in salvation history. Previously God had chosen the Jewish people to reveal his truth. Then Jesus came to those same people to gather a new community from ethic Israel. But after his return to the Father a new stage in salvation history was reached. A stage when the message would be taken and proclaimed throughout the world. And that’s the stage we are in today.
Now Jesus was a very practical person so in the rest of John 14 he explains how this mission will be achieved.
Look at what he says in verse 13, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
This is not open heaven on prayer requests. Simply have to say in Jesus’ name and we get whatever we want. I would like a new car in Jesus name. I would like a new house in Jesus’ name. I would like a raise in Jesus’ name.
It is prayer in line with the wishes and will of Jesus Christ. His sheep may hear his voice.
Good to be reminded again and again of the urgency, of the necessity and the power of prayer.
“Unless God builds the house, the workers labour in vain.”
Yes we have our strategies, yes we have our courses, yes we have our services but without prayer the workers labour in vain!
Great to be part of a church where the prayer gathering is well attended. If you don’t attend can I ask why? If you attend a home group and not the prayer meeting can I ask why? Not feel like it? Not think it important?
Listen again to the promise of Jesus, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.”
For the mission to succeed we need to pray.
Secondly, for the mission to succeed we
need the help of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus says in verse 15, that “if you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Crucial because he has earlier outlined that if the disciples love each other then other people will notice and eventually work out that this new community acts like this because of their commitment to Jesus.
How can they obey Christ’s commandments and love each other? Only because of the promised gift Jesus speaks about in verse 16.
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him or knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
Jesus would leave but he would be replaced by the third member of the Trinity. Who is not some impersonal force like that in Star Wars but the third person of the Godhead who can take residence in many hearts simultaneously.
Notice how many time the personal pronoun is used in these verses! The Holy Spirit is a he and not an it!
This is the gift of every Christian today. When we become a Christian we are given God’s personal power for inner transformation. Essential for the mission of Christian expansion. He enables us to live differently and hence shine as lights in a dark world.
I love Judas’ comment in verse 22. Basically saying why do it this way? After the resurrection you will appear to us, why not have a major display to the whole world? Why bother trying to expand the kingdom through our witness?
The answer? Because that’s the way God has chosen to do it.
He could have done it differently. But he chosen the way revealed in the Scripture. And that is for us to live distinctively here on earth in the power of the Spirit and to pray that Jesus will grow his Kingdom as we speak of him to those around us.
So let’s pray that he would do that over these next few months at St Johns.
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