A Pastor was giving a children’s sermon to some kindergarten children one Sunday and he was talking to them about heaven. He asked them, “Will obeying your mother get you to heaven?” The children all shook their heads no. Then the pastor asked, “Will being nice to your younger brother or sister get you into heaven?” The children all shook their heads no again. “Will sharing your toys with your friends get you into heaven?” The children again shook their heads no. “What do you have to do to get into heaven?” the pastor asked. One little boy raised his hand and said, “You have to be dead first, Silly.”
I suspect that I have spoken on the 14th chapter of John more than any other Scripture in the Bible. It is the most popular gospel used for funeral services and since I have been here in Spring Hill I have done over 50 funeral services. Why this gospel text is so popular is I suspect is because it is one that offers hope, assurance, and comfort perhaps more than any other. This is one of the few places Jesus talks about heaven and how to get there. But what about for us today , how does it help us? This is not a funeral service. How does this gospel text speak to us? I would like you to see that this is one of the most wonderful, profound, and significant gospel texts in all of the Scriptures.
The context is the night of the betrayal. Jesus tells his disciples to not be troubled. They are upset because he has just told them that he has to go away from them and they are unable to come with him. But it is going to be OK he tells them because they know the way to where he is going. There is an awkward silence and then Thomas speaking for all of them says, “Wait, we do not even know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” They didn’t realize that he was talking about dying. They didn’t get that until later. Jesus responds with the famous words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” Philp then pipes up and says, “Show us the Father and that will be enough.” And Jesus tells them, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Karl Barth, the famous theologian—perhaps the most influential theologian in the 20th century, was lecturing to a group of students at Princeton. One student asked the German theologian “Sir, don’t you think that God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?” Barth answered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity. He has revealed himself in his Son.”
Do you see it? Do you get what Jesus just said? The questions humanity has been asking since the beginning of history, what is God like? How does one get to God? How do we communicate with God? Look, all these answers are right here! Jesus is the God-Man. We have to look at Jesus to see what God is like. When we study the life of Jesus and how he reacts to people and situations we see God in action. When we see him, we see God.
This Scripture is perhaps the most profound texts in the Bible. Here, yes Jesus says, “I am the way and no comes to the Father, that is, God except through me.” This is exclusive. This does mean that all the other religions like Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and any other ones do NOT lead to God. This is why other religions get upset with Jesus and those who believe him because it is exclusive. This is one of the reasons the Christians got into trouble with Rome. If they had simply said that they had another way to God it would have been OK. But they did not. If we did not believe that Jesus is in fact God, these would simply be arrogant words. But Jesus did say them and then God raised him from the dead and validated what he said. These words are profound and significant but what exactly did Jesus mean? Jesus told his disciples that night he was the way to God. How can a person be a way?
I think the easiest method to explain is by comparison. Do you remember the Superman TV program with George Reeves? Superman fights for truth, justice and the American way. What does the American way mean? The American way is thought of as fair-play, individualistic, pragmatic, and with generally good morals and values. The American way is a cultural thing. It is something that pervades how our society thinks and what it values. As Americans most of us adapt the American way unconsciously. In our country, in our society, because the American way contains a values and moral elements people think that the American Way is the same as being a Christian. But Christianity and being American are different.
I would like to contrast the American Way with another way. There are those of us who could probably afford to lose a couple of pounds. But according to healthcare professionals, dieting to reach a weight goal is not enough. Healthy weight loss needs to become a way of life. So programs like Weight Watchers, or Jenny Craig, or Atkins, or Body for Life, and probably most of the other reputable ones have the weight loss program that one uses in the beginning to reach the weight goal, and then there is the maintenance part of the diet that one is on for the rest of your life. The same sort of thinking goes into a body fitness program. When one begins a fitness program, one begins it with a goal of, say looking physically fit or losing the spare tire or the flab. But once one reaches this goal of being in shape one cannot simply stop exercising and expect that the body to simply stay in shape. No, then there is the maintenance program. One has to weave your physical activity and training into one’s weekly schedule if the progress is going to be sustained. This self-discipline has to become part of your way of life, part of how you approach your day and your week and your month and your year for the rest of your life. So in these cases, dieting or exercising becomes a way of life, it becomes a way of ordering how you live your life.
When Jesus talks about being the way to God he is talking about a way of life but it is NOT like the American way. He is not talking about a cultural thing; He is not talking about an unconscious way of acting. Christianity is not an unconscious cultural sort of thing. It is not simply getting baptized as a baby and then forgetting about it. The way of life, the way to God Jesus is talking about is similar in fact to the way of life that a dieter or of one becoming physically fit has to adopt. Jesus is talking about a pro-active consciousness of how one lives his or her life. Just like a dieter has to always be conscious of what he or she is eating, the Christian has to always be aware of how he or she is thinking and reacting. Just like the one wanting to be physically fit has to weave exercises into his daily activities, the Christian is always trying to be aware of God’s presence. The way to God that Jesus is talking about is for people to follow him and his teaching so closely that they are trying to think like he thinks, to act like he acts, to value what he values, and to love like he loves.
This text is indeed, if not the most profound, one of the most profound, wonderful, and significant Scripture texts in all the Bible. It affects how we understand who God is and how to approach him. As the collect for this week says, May God help us so perfectly to know Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth and the life that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that lead to eternal life.