Sermon at St Mary Hadlow – Easter 5 – Jesus is the Way –18th May 2014
Rev’d Christopher Miles
Acts7 vv 55 – E The Stoning of Stephen
John 14 vv 1 -14 Jesus comforts his disciples; he is the unique way to the Father
Theme – Jesus the Way
Text John 14 v 6 Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way the truth and the life”.
- Introduction. On this the first Sunday of our new pew Bibles being available at the time of the sermon, I invite you to open your Bibles at the Gospel reading for today, John Chapter 14 on page 116. (pause) I am going to focus on v 6 where Jesus responds to a question from the apostle Thomas, saying to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. 60 years ago on the evening of 19th May 1954 I was sitting in Haringey Arena with a muted background noise of motorbikes racing round the Haringey Stadium nearby. In the centre of the arena hung a large cube, on the sides of which were the text, ‘Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life”’. Combined with Billy Graham’s preaching, that text came to me as a personal challenge to make Jesus ‘my way’. I am delighted therefore to be able to share this passage and particularly this text with you this morning so that you may accept or continue with Jesus as your Way. First of all I want to look at the context of the verse, then secondly consider how we handle the uniqueness of the verse expressed in the second half, ‘no one comes to the Father except through me.’ and finally consider its application to us today.
- Context. The setting for our gospel reading today is the Last Supper. The direct context begins in the previous chapter, 13, where in verse 33 (pause) Jesus says, “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’”. In verse 36, Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?”, to which Jesus answers, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now but you will follow afterwards.’ Remember that Jesus had already spoken to the 12 about going up to Jerusalem, where he would suffer and die, and Peter had been one of the three disciples on the mount of transfiguration where Moses and Elijah had spoken with Jesus about the manner of his departure from this world. It is not surprising that Peter now responds in verse 37, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you’. Jesus knows that the 11 disciples present are deeply concerned at his talk of leaving them and so he seeks to comfort them, with the words which open our gospel reading, from the beginning of Chapter 14, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?’ The sentence, ‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.’ is a difficult one both to translate and to understand. The older ones amongst us may well recall the words of the Authorised Version, ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’, which seems a bit of a nonsense if one thinks of a mansion as being a large house. The Greek word is μοναί (monai), which is better translated in the NRSV as ‘dwelling places’ and sometimes as ‘resting places’. The same word is used in v 23 when Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them and we will come and make our home with them.” Μονην (Monen) is translated here as ‘home’ or in some versions the phrase is, ‘we will abide with them’. Archbishop William Temple, in his commentary on St John’s Gospel, writes of the picture behind this word in verse 1, as that of the travelling group, where a servant would go on ahead to book accommodation and prepare for the group’s arrival later in the day and so the ‘dwelling place’ is a temporary lodging place on a journey. That is perhaps why there are many dwelling places in the Father’s house.
Others would say that this doesn’t quite fit with the dwelling places being in the Father’s house and that Jesus is saying to the 11 in effect, ‘Don’t worry. There is room for you all in heaven. By my death and following my resurrection and ascension, I will be preparing a place for you all in heaven. We tend to think of heaven as a physical place rather like a planet, quite separate from earth but that is because of the limitation of our earth-bound understanding. Like Peter, Thomas and Philip, and the other disciples, we cannot fully comprehend what Jesus is saying. I think that it is fair to say that both understandings are consistent with the whole thrust of Jesus’ teaching. Our Christian pilgrimage is a journey of faith. We can enjoy periods of rest on what at times may be an arduous journey and as we trust in Jesus and live out his teaching we can experience God the Father and his Son Jesus coming in the power of the Spirit to abide with us and encourage us on the journey until we reach the complete rest of heaven in God’s presence where there are rooms prepared for each of us in the Father’s house.
- Uniqueness Let us now turn our attention to verse 6, where firstly Jesus says ‘I am the way the truth and the life’. The ‘I am’ is very emphatic as in the several other ‘I am’ statements of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel such as, ‘I am the bread of life’, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’. The Greek is ‘εγω ειμι’ (‘ego eimi’), which is literally ‘I, I am’, for without the ‘Ego’ it would still be translated ‘I am’. More than that it has echoes of Moses’ meeting with God, who, when asked his name, says, ‘I am who I am’, ‘Thus shall you say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ (Exodus 3 v 14). Even that translation does not do justice to the original Hebrew, which could be translated more fully, ‘I was, I am and I will be’, or ‘I am the eternally existent one’. In other words, Jesus is subtly claiming divinity. He may have appeared for a mere 30 years or so on earth but he is the eternally existent one. There is then, this uniqueness about his person. He is more than a prophet, which is what many people recognised him as. That is why Jesus can go on in the same verse to claim to be the unique way to God the Father, when he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me’. This saying can be a difficulty for many people. Is Jesus saying that only Christians will get to heaven? This is where we have to interpret one part of Scripture to be consistent with the rest of Scripture. There is only one basis of confident approach to God and that is the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. To deliberately reject such a basis is to put one’s eternal salvation in jeopardy. The week before last, I was staying in a hotel in Milan. The receptionist when I arrived was a man called ‘Aziz’. I discovered that he had been born in Tunisia and as a boy had received a firm grounding in the Muslim faith. However he had come to Italy at the age of 16 and in due course had married an English wife. He obviously had a preference for the Christian faith and sometimes with his wife attended the English speaking Anglican Church, All Saints’ Church, to which I went the following day, Sunday. I asked what to him was the important feature of Christianity and he replied, ‘Forgiveness’. He has I think a fair degree of awareness of the uniqueness of the Christian Way. Jesus’ divine nature and his sacrificial death make Christianity unique. We should not be fearful of asserting this uniqueness, but also being aware that some people are on that unique Way with only a partial awareness, perhaps even little awareness of being on it. Nonetheless a full conscious appreciation and choice of Jesus as one’s way is the ideal.
- Personal choice. So we come finally to consider that personal choice which probably most of us, but may be not all of us, have made, so that Jesus may be for you as well as for me, ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’. Let us remember that the whole context is that of bringing comfort to his disciples as they face the reality of his suffering and death, with as then only a faint understanding that Jesus would rise from the dead a few days later. To accept Jesus as the way for you is to accept the accompanying promise that ‘Those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and the Father and Jesus will come to you and make their home with you’. It is to enter into a personal relationship, not just to accept that Jesus’ teaching is good. It is a way that at times may be tough and may involve tough decisions but you will not be on your own. On your personal pilgrimage through this life there will be a number of resting places until you come to the final place that Jesus has prepared for you in his Father’s house. If you would like to discuss this further do speak to me and we can arrange a suitable time and place to do that. I am not into Facebook and such social media but if you would like a copy of this or any other of my sermons, I usually type them and can E mail you a copy. I invite you to link my sermon with the reflection on the back page of the Sunday newssheet.
I conclude with the final verse of Psalm 16 and the prayer in Common Worship Morning and Evening Prayer at the end of Psalm 139
Psalm 16 v 11 “You, O God show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore”.
And the prayer after Psalm 139.
Creator God, may every breath we take be for your glory,
may every footstep show you as our way,
that, trusting in your presence in this world,
we may, beyond this life, still be with you
where you are alive and reign for ever and ever. Amen.