Intro: Map – the stuff of nightmares.
I like seeing highway signs that tell me I’m on the right road. I like knowing I haven’t taken a wrong turn or missed my exit when I’m traveling. I get a little nervous when it’s been a while since I’ve seen a sign confirming I’m going in the right direction.
Have you ever been lost? We’ve all been a little confused – took a left when we should have gone right – missed an exit and had to backtrack – showed up at the place we thought we were supposed to be, but no one else is there. It’s frustrating, sometimes a little frightening, but it’s usually recoverable. But have you ever been really lost – perilously lost? Like the couple who took a wrong turn snowmobiling and ended up lost in the Idaho outback for five days before being rescued – or the college students on an Amazonian wilderness experience who missed the marked trail and wandered lost in the jungle for four days, fifty miles away from their camp – or the young boy who wandered from his home and ended up stranded on the side of a cliff overlooking the Mississippi river until rescuers found him.
To be lost is a terrible feeling. To have all of your points of reference gone and no familiar landmarks to guide you home. Jesus’ announcement to his disciples that he would leave them and go to a place they could not go must have hit them like a punch in the gut. Jesus tried to reassure them that he was going to prepare a place for them and that they would follow later, but it only added to the confusion and disbelief.
It was Thomas who spoke for them all when he said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” And it is in response to that distressed cry for help that Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus’ reassurance comes in the form of a road sign – a marked trail – a clear path.
They thought they were going the right way – the path seemed clear enough following Jesus – it was risky, but as long as Jesus was beside them they kept their courage. But this wasn’t on their map – Jesus leave them? That’s like that bridge on I-40 in Oklahoma that collapsed into the Illinois river when a barge ran into a piling. What now? The road is gone. Their confidence was shaken to the core. “Jesus, how can we carry on without you?”
Have you been on a familiar path that suddenly crumbled beneath you? A marriage in which you thought you would grow old together – cut short by death or divorce? A job you thought you’d retire from – suddenly downsized. Children that you poured your life into – rebelling and disrupting your life. Lots of paths that we choose can suddenly be torn apart and detoured. And then what?
When we find ourselves in life-disrupting circumstances we go looking for a way out – an escape hatch. But the way out of life’s deep pit of despair is not by grasping just anything that is offered. The things so many people grasp onto only make things worse – self-medication with drugs or alcohol, affairs, revenge, suicide. There is only one path that leads from trouble to hope, from despair to triumph – that is the way of faith in Jesus Christ.
Have you ever thought about the combination of words that Jesus uses in his response to Thomas? “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This isn’t a random series of words Jesus throws together. There is a specific and integral progression of thought.
When Jesus says, “I am the way,” he isn’t saying anything different than what he has said in numerous ways with a variety of images. If you and I are going to find our way out of the darkness, through the dangers, into the promise of heaven it is going to be by following Jesus. He is the pathway to salvation.
And when Jesus tells us he is the way, it isn’t an intellectual or philosophical mindset that he proposes. When he says “I am the way” he is talking about following him as a disciple – walking in his footsteps, imitating his life, devoting ourselves to him in a daily walk. He invites us to join him step by step through life with him as our constant companion and guide.
But it is not just that he is a pathway, he is “the way.” And when he says, “I am the truth,” he is limiting and exclusivising the way. He is the true path.
• Do you remember the roadrunner and Wiley Coyote? One of the coyote’s tricks was to switch the road signs. He’d spin the sign around thinking it would send the roadrunner in the wrong direction and into his trap.
• Tony Campolo wrote a book a few years ago titled, Who Switched the Price Tags? in which he describes the societal change that has taken place in which materialism and consumerism has overtaken the idealism and altruism of previous generations. Everything that has real and true value has been replaced by cheap junk – and we’ve bought into it.
It is a symptom of our pluralistic world to hear the common mantra, “we’re all going to heaven – just taking different paths.” Truth defines the way as exclusive. The very next thing Jesus will say is “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
In Acts 4:12, as Peter addresses the Jewish rulers he proclaims, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
• Whether it is seeking salvation through God’s grace, or looking for the path out of our struggles and crises – Jesus is the true way. When we choose a different path than Jesus, our destination will never be what God desires, and our journey will always be filled with heartache and despair.
• You may have played the Milton Bradley board game with your kids, The Game of Life. Players drive around the board in plastic cars acquiring 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 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. You can still purchase it in historical novelty shops, but it reflects a very different view of life from the modern game with the similar name. It isn’t about the accumulation 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.”
Solomon writes, “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” When Jesus says, “I am the life” he is affirming that when you choose his way it will always end in life, not death.
In John 10 when Jesus says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly” he’s not preaching a gospel of wealth and prosperity, but a declaration that life in Jesus will bring blessings that we can only experience in him. And here in John 14, when he says, “I am the life,” he is not promising a pain and suffering-free life. In that very moment he has announced that his Way will take him through suffering and death. And he has told his disciples that following him will lead them through those same perils – they will be hated and persecuted; they will be stoned and put to death. But because the Way ends in Life they will be more than compensated. Paul will write in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Did you notice? Not “revealed to us,” but “revealed in us.” What Jesus came to bring us was not a revelation that we can observe and marvel at, like spectators at an art gallery or museum, but a revelation that we experience and participate in. It is a new life – the new creation that we become in Jesus Christ.
I want to ask you – do you have life? I don’t mean do you have a pulse, do you get up and go to work every morning and eat supper every evening. But do you have life? Is your life just a series of paychecks and mortgage payments? Is all you have to show for life a house filled with stuff and a new car in the garage?
Do you have life? The kind of life that makes a difference – the kind of life that counts for eternity? Are you plugged into the source of power – do you have a vital, intimate life-giving relationship with God that fills you with joy and purpose? When Jesus said he came that you might have an abundant life, he wasn’t talking about health and wealth, but a life that is filled to overflowing with God. Do you have that kind of life?
You may have your feet firmly planted on the center stripe – confidently and obediently following Jesus. Jesus says your destination is the Father – to stand at his feet and look into his face. Stay on the path – don’t get distracted or detoured.
You may be looking around in your life and thinking, “I just don’t have a clue where I am or how I got here.” You are so lost, you don’t know how you’re going to get back to where you need to be. Do you know the saying, “You can’t get there from here”? It’s not true about the Way. Whenever you decide to get on the true way, it is only one step from where you are now.
Posted on Sun, April 10, 2011
by John Roberts