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Monday, May 23, 2011

Jesus in our Speech, Thought

It’s All About Jesus (John 14:5-7)

Rob Tennant, Sunday, May 5, 2011

You’ve just been to a film, the movie everyone’s talking about. Your friend comes and says, “Tell me about it.”

“Oh, it was fantastic,” you say. “The theater is brand new and the seats are so comfortable. You can lean back. There’s plenty of legroom. It hasn’t been around long enough for there to be a pervasive stickiness where people have spilled sodas and rubbed sticky hands. It all feels clean and new. It’s really wonderful.”

“Uh, huh,” your friend replies. “And …?”

You say, “Well the concession stand is amazing. When we went, it was packed. But the concession stand is so long and has extra registers. The wait in line was not bad. And, the concession stand is fully loaded. Every kind of candy, popcorn, everything – they have it all. The popcorn was out of this world.”

“But what about the movie?” You friend asks.

“The picture on the screen is spectacular. The quality of both picture and sound is breathtaking.” Now, you’re getting excited as you talk. “Yes,” you continue, “It’s a great movie experience. Plus, before the film, they showed 7 previews of upcoming attractions and the previews were really cool.”

Now, you’ve talked all about the evening. You’ve shared your experience with zeal. You’ve given substance and detail. You’d go again right now. Why is your friend so frustrated? You’ve never mentioned the actual movie!

In John 13 and 14, the disciples are with Jesus at the last Supper. Judas Iscariot has already gone out. They don’t know why Judas left, but they can tell from his tone and the expression on his face that Jesus is completely serious about what he’s saying. It’s a moment they know they need to pay close attention, and they do. Furthermore, they ask questions.

My guess is many questions were asked in this dialogue, and that shows the environment Jesus created. He wanted his disciples to be thinking men and women. Often they were wrong in their assumptions, but he invited them to keep thinking, keeping asking, keep growing. Four of the inquiries are recorded.

Jesus tells them, “I am only with you a little longer. … Where I am going you cannot go” (13:33). Of course Simon Peter leads off. “Lord, where are you going?” In an answer Dr. Seuss would appreciate, Jesus responds, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow me afterward.” With ignorance and bombast, Peter dismisses what Jesus said and pledges to lay down his life. Jesus then predicts Peter’s denial.

Jesus continues to teach them with words of reassurance. “In my Father’s house are many rooms … I go and prepare a place for you” (14:2-3). This time, Thomas takes up the questioning, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” We’re going to come back to the answer Jesus gives Thomas.

After Jesus responds to him, it is Philip’s turn. “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus says, “Have I been with you all this time Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

As I said, I think John gives us just some of what said and many other questions were asked. But, the final recorded question of the disciples in this dialogue comes from Judas (the other Judas, not Judas Iscariot). “Lord, how is it that you reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus says to Judas, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (14:23).

The disciples didn’t want to know about peripherals – the box office, the theater lights, or the sound system. They wanted Jesus to tell them the main story – where is he going and how do they get there? Every answer he gives is not about a location, but rather with a person, Jesus himself. Peter will deny knowing Jesus. If Philip wants to see God, he should look to Jesus. The reason Judas gets to see Jesus whereas Jesus is not revealed to others outside the circle of disciples is Judas and the disciples loved him and listened to him. When we listen to Jesus and look to Him, we come into relationship with God.

The disciples were trying to wrap their minds around this, but the lesson wouldn’t sink in until after the resurrection and after they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Today, it is 2000 years was Jesus was raised. We know that happened. The Holy Spirit has come in full force. For those reasons our understanding should be deep and mature.

So why when Christians talk about their faith do they so often mention their favorite song on K-Love or some other Christian station, or a C.S. Lewis novel, or the president’s faith, or what some celebrity said about God? Why can we talk about these a million other things, some very important others not so much, but we fail to focus on the main thing? Why do we get so tongue-tied when the conversation is about Jesus?

Here’s what Jesus said when Thomas asked, “How can we know the way to where you are going?” Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” We don’t need a road map. To get to Heaven, we don’t to fly into space and hang a left just past the Big Dipper. To walk in the Kingdom of God, we don’t have to find it. It is not a place in the sense that Franklin Street or Raleigh or the beach are places.

How can we know the way? Jesus is the way. Retired Oxford Professor John Ashton points out that John, the fourth evangelist, is not trying to fill the reader with knowledge. He wants to help the reader come to faith.[i] In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. ‘Life’ or ‘Eternal Life’ are phrases in John that function in the same way. Jesus is talking about a complete transformation of the way humans relate to one another and to God. This transformation reaches its completion at the last judgment. We begin our participation in it, in the life, in the Kingdom, when we follow Jesus, and have His Spirit in our hearts. When we are in Christ, we are in the kingdom. He is the way.

John’s goal is revelation, not information. God is revealed to those who set their lives on Jesus. It truly is all about Him. “It” refers to our attitudes toward life; toward people; toward pain; toward money; toward our experiences and our history; toward our future. Everything in life is interpreted according to the teaching of Jesus; the way he modeled relationship, prayer, and faith; and his actions. We have to know Him as He presented in the New Testament; in the history of the church; in the voice of the church today; and in our own experience with Him through the Holy Spirit.

In Christianity Today magazine, Carolyn Arends writes, “I have never liked thinking about my own death. But I’ve considered it enough to know I hope I go down singing, or at least speaking or thinking, something about Jesus.”[ii]

A church member is in the car driving to work, thinking over and over about someone at work who has made him extremely angry. That person was mean, and unfair and dishonest. So, how does Jesus lead the church member, a Christian, to act toward this dirty, cheating person he’s going to run into at work again? The answer will very from day to day. One day, the believer may have to confront the other’s dirty deeds. Another day, the Christ-follower may have to turn the other cheek. And the next day it will be something else. But each day, each step of each day, is taken with Jesus in mind. Jesus determines our lives. He is the way, the truth, and the life.

The example of facing someone who is underhanded, has implications. Saying Jesus is the way has implications. So too does the second half of the statement Jesus made to Thomas. Thomas said, “How can we know the way to where you are going?” Jesus responded, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And here’s the part I didn’t read initially. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The heart of the matter – the movie itself – is Jesus. And there’s no way to be in the Kingdom and be in relationship with God except through Jesus. This statement has heavy implications, because it implies something rather definitive about people who do not walk the way of Jesus. They are cut off from God.

More on that in a moment, but first, notice the invitation that is obvious but not stated. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus; everyone who goes through Jesus gets to the Father. He said to the other Judas (not Iscariot) those who love him, keep his word. Obedience and love – when this is our approach and we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, he says that He and the Father make their home with us. All who come to Jesus are welcomed by God.

But what about those who don’t come to Jesus?

Do we just write them off as being lost? If we want to play this out all the way, do we say they are going to Hell when they die? They don’t believe in Jesus, they are not walking in Him, the way, they don’t believe in Him, the truth, and so they are not living the life. Is that the end of it?

We could say a simple “yes,” and go on for our Sunday lunch. That would be great if John’s Gospel were a reference book. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to Father except through him. If one does not go through him, one does not get to the Father. To be eternally cut-off from the Father is Hell. We’re done. Except, John is not a reference book. John is a story. A true story, but a story nonetheless. John is trying to give revelation, not information. It’s state clearly in John 20:31. This gospel was not written so we would know the facts. It was written so we would believe and have life, and not just any life, but life in the name of Jesus.

So when Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to Father except through him, what is being revealed?

God is being revealed in a man. Clearly from the fact that Jesus commissioned his followers and the fact that the stated purpose of the gospel is that it lead people to belief, we have a commission. We who have read and have been filled by the Spirit have a job to do. Our job is not to tell about how awesome our church is. Doing our job may include describing our congregation here, but at the heart, that’s not our job. Our church is here to help us do our job.

Our job is not to argue with others about the issues of the day like abortion or “just war” theories or alcohol consumption or a proper faith response to poverty or capital punishment. Those issues are important and a part of our job and a part of our response to Jesus might be to have an opinion on those issues and to express that opinion. But our job is not to politick along the lines of those issues on their own merit.

Furthermore, our job is not to determine who is in Heaven and who isn’t. I hope this is not unsatisfactory, but in none of the commissions, not in Matthew, not in Luke, not in Acts, not in John – in none are we called to identify who in the world around us is headed for Hell. We don’t make that decision. God does. Hell is real. God will decide what it is like, who goes there, and how long they stay. People make definitive statements about Heaven and Hell, all the time, and yet the same people fail to talk much about the heart of the matter.

It’s all about Jesus. Our job is to love our neighbors as we love ourselves and to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. One of the best ways I can love someone is to introduce him to Jesus. And if Jesus is the way and I am walking in the way, then no matter what I am talking about, Jesus is on my mind.

We have some rabid UNC basketball fans in this church. A few years ago, Gerald Henderson of the hated Duke Blue Devils smashed the beloved Tyler Hansbro’s nose. The UNC fan’s emotions would boil over in seeing that. But, our job isn’t to react in that scenario as a raging UNC fanatics. Our job is to think ‘Jesus’ in that situation, and follow His lead in our words, in our hearts, in our facial expressions. It’s all about Jesus because he is the way, the truth, and the life.

People want to snatch John 14:6 out of context and use it as some kind of bludgeon. Whoever doesn’t have Jesus is going to Hell. No! This chapter doesn’t talk about Hell. Really, let God worry about who’s going to Hell. We are called to walk in the way and believe in the truth so we can live the life in the Kingdom.

In terms of John revealing God through Jesus and us responding to that revelation, William Willimon asks, what sort of lives does our faith produce?[iii] Instead of using John 14:6 as an angry declaration that all non-Christians are Hell-bound, try being formed by John 14:6. I really believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. So, how does that belief create me? Life is all about Jesus. Am I all about Jesus? And is Jesus in every little bit of my life? Every part? Every relationship? Every opinion? Every emotional reaction? Is Jesus driving me, creating who I am?

Is easy to say some formulaic prayer and then declare I belong to Jesus and then speak condemnation against everyone out there who hasn’t said that formula prayer, ‘the sinner’s prayer.’ I think every prayer is a sinner’s prayer.

It’s better to examine the questions the disciples asked – Peter, Thomas, Philip, Judas. And we add our questions. And we listen with our hearts to Jesus’ response. He invites us to look to Him. He says when we love Him, we obey Him. His command is that we love others, and bring them to Him. If this is how we live, in worship, in obedience, in evangelism, in holiness, in love – if this how we live, then our lives are all about Jesus.


[i] Ashton’s comments come from his chapter in Jesus in the Johanine Tradition, Robert Fortna, Tom Thatcher, editors (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001), p.334.

[ii] Carolyn Arends, “Going Down Singing,” Christianity Today, April, 2011, p.56

[iii] Dr. Willimon, a Century editor at large, is minister to the university and professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. This article appeared in the Christian Century, January 28, 1987, pps. s. 82-85. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This article prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

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